Given the global situation, and with many provinces under varying degrees of lockdown, we are presently faced with finding strategies for remote programming that continue to meet the needs of athletes who do not currently have access to facilities. In particular, a major challenge we face is providing an adequate training stimulus with minimal equipment and space, to ensure strength and power qualities are maintained, rather than solely providing conditioning with body weight circuits.
Whilst we might be limited on external loading, the more salient issue is what forces are imposed at the level of the muscle-tendon unit. There are a number of ways we can leverage physics to help us to impose relatively high force demands despite the restrictions on what external load we have available, and elicit high levels of muscle recruitment and activation in the process.
For instance, we can play with inertia and momentum. Overcoming our own inertia, particularly in a relatively ballistic (full acceleration) fashion involves significant application of force. We can leverage this by using bottom up variations, and pause sets.
Similarly, whilst we might be limited on the mass part of the force = mass x acceleration, we can nevertheless manipulate acceleration. Performing strength training exercises with whatever resistance we have available in a more ballistic manner during the concentric action increases force output and in turn the force demands on the musculature. One note of caution, however, is to watch out for low ceilings – hence starting from a low position with a split or single leg variation is generally a wise choice.
Video Example: Split Bound
We can also manipulate momentum to impose higher force demands. Fast eccentric training is one modality that might be part of the solution. Essentially this involves executing through the eccentric range of motion using whatever external resistance is available in a relatively short time (less than a second). This works particularly well when we can take advantage of gravity – so that the descent is performed relatively quickly before coming to a rapid stop. Examples include exercises that involve dropping and sticking the landing. Single-leg and split variations impose a greater degree of loading on the lower limb.
There is quite a body of literature demonstrating the potency of fast eccentrics as a modality, and this includes adaptations that support explosive power expression. Importantly, the metabolic demand is also relatively lower, which helps to avoid the change type II fibre subtypes that can otherwise impair early rate of force development and high velocity force output during unloaded limb movements. As an aside, this is another reason to do something other than circuit training for speed and power athletes.
Finally, by using the coupling between eccentric and concentric phases, and both the velocity of the descent and the ascent, we can increase the momentum that the athlete needs to overcome. The very high ground reaction forces seen with plyometrics and sprinting illustrate how acceleration (notably gravity) and movement velocity can produce a very high-intensity stimulus, and we can extend this approach to larger ranges of motion during variations and permutations of strength and speed-strength exercises.
Author Bio: Paul Gamble PhD presently works as an independent coach, provider of continuing education, and consultant in Vancouver, BC. Paul is a relative newcomer to Canada, having relocated to Vancouver in late 2017 from Auckland, New Zealand. Paul is from the UK originally and began his career in elite sport with professional rugby union side London Irish in the English Premiership. Paul completed his PhD in 2005 and wrote his first textbook ‘Strength and Conditioning for Team Sports’ in 2009. Paul’s latest book ‘Prepared: Unlocking Human Performance with Lessons from Elite Sport’ is due for release in early April.